Wall Street lords laugh over bailout during black-tie gala

A Occupy Wall Street protestor holds up a sign reading "eat the rich" in September 2011. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Wall Street financiers put on a skit about the Occupy Wall Street protests behind closed doors

Kevin Roose, then of the New York Times, snuck into a secret society gala of the Wall Street elite, took some photos, video and audio recordings, then got thrown out.

This isn't exactly news - he wrote about his experience at the Kappa Beta Phi fraternity's black-tie party at the St Regis Hotel in the Times back in January 2012.

Now, however, he has shared some of the more salacious details that were left out of the Times story on New York magazine's website - and what he describes seems like a cross between a 1950s Elks Lodge meeting and a G-rated version of the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut.

The article described off-colour jokes about Hillary Clinton, a parody of Occupy Wall Street protesters, songs about being bailed out by the government and lots of cross-dressing (complete with photos and recordings).

Roose says that the event constituted a "gigantic middle finger to Main Street".

"Here, after all, was a group that included many of the executives whose firms had collectively wrecked the global economy in 2008 and 2009," Roose writes. "And they were laughing off the entire disaster in private, as if it were a long-forgotten lark."

Roose notes recent quotes from Wall Street titans, including billionaire Wilbur Ross, who headed Kappa Beta Phi in 2012, about how they feel persecuted in today's political climate. He writes that the reason for this is the high-rolling tycoons are painfully divorced from reality.

"Their pursuit of money and power had removed them from the larger world to the sad extent that, now, in the primes of their careers, the only people with whom they could be truly themselves were a handful of other prominent financiers."

Joan Walsh of Salon says that it's hard to read Roose's article and not be appalled.

"You'll come away thinking, if you don't already, that a lot of these people are monsters," she writes. "What the excerpt captured was the insularity and paranoia of plutocrats who band together to protect themselves from mostly imagined social opprobrium and self-doubt."

Michael Krieger agrees, writing on his blog, Liberty Blitzkrieg:

Basically, it will confirm what everyone already thought. That a great many of these oligarch financiers are complete and total sociopaths and a menace to society.

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan thinks the event smacked of wealthy decadence and an elite unconcerned with how it is perceived by average Americans:

They're making their videos, holding their parties and having a ball. OK. But imagine you're a Citizen at Home just grinding through - trying to do it all, the job, the parenthood, the mowing the lawn and paying the taxes. No glamour, all responsibility and effort. And you see these little clips on the Net where the wealthy sing about how great taxpayer bailouts are and you feel like ... they're laughing at you.

She asks: "What happens to a nation whose elites laugh at its citizens? What happens to its elites?"

The American Conservative's Rod Dreher argues that nothing has happened yet because Americans just don't care enough.

"Those elites get away with it because we either don't know what to do about them, or can't muster the political focus and will to do anything at all about them," he writes.

If average Americans continue to ignore the problem, however, and things get worse, he says, it opens the way to authoritarianism, to demagogues like Venezuela's late dictator Hugo Chavez or Depression-era Louisiana Governor Huey P Long, who helped the poor but "became fabulously corrupt and dictatorial".

"It is worth asking ourselves how we contribute to the decadence we see among the superrich of Wall Street, if only by our passivity," he writes. "Because if, God forbid, a Huey P Long or a Hugo Chavez comes to power in this country, it won't be solely the fault of the wealthy men and women who dined at the St. Regis Hotel."

At this year's gala, Fortune Magazine's Shawn Tully unsuccessfully tried to talk his way into the ballroom, but organisers were "apparently far more scared - borderline paranoid, in fact - than ever before that the details of their annual bacchanal will leak out".

He writes: "The folks trying to portray themselves as unpretentious and fun appear to have lost all sense of humor when it comes to word leaking out about their antics."

Given the details in Roose's piece, they have reason to be cautious. And, perhaps, scared.